Getting into the Lakeland Flow in Vermilion
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Nordic trail network a community catalyst
VERMILION, AB - Caroline McAuley and Katie Zorn are on the downslope, gliding down and over a bridge striped with aspen shadows, glorying in the Nordic flow that now comes instinctively to them. Zorn is in her teens and McAuley her 50s, but there is a cross-generational rapport that develops naturally on the ski trails out here at Vermilion Provincial Park. The legacy of these trails spans decades.
Like success in general, when you first achieve flow on cross-country skis it can be hard to pinpoint the exact technique you used to achieve it. It just happens. Often, when you start thinking about it, you lose it.
In a similar way, Vermilion is a community that has developed a certain flow, a pattern of success. Local festivals and events, art collectives and an active sporting scene infuse the town with vitality. Creative new enterprises and fresh local shops integrate into downtown’s historic main street in an organic blend of old prairie and new school.
“Other communities ask, how do you do it?” says McAuley. As mayor of Vermilion, and a resident of 30 years, she has some insights. “People are entrepreneurial here, excited to be part of that spirit. Having the park is part of that enhanced community. The park is part of who we are.”
The early development of the provincial park trail network here in the 1970s was a community catalyst that eventually led to Olympic success for Beckie Scott. Along the way, it generated a grassroots cross-country scene in Alberta’s grasslands that continues to cause ripples here and elsewhere in the province.
Among Vermilion Nordic alumni include entrepreneurs like Todd Ree, co-founder of Copper Cork Distillery, and Toland Cochrane, who opened the new outdoor outfitter Burnt Rock Adventure Co. on main street in 2021. Les Parsons, who coached Beckie Scott and several other Team Canada skiers from Vermilion, is now in Bonnyville building the Nordic scene there with his wife, Sarah.
Another catalyst might be the infusion of academic ingenuity and youthful enthusiasm from Lakeland College. But whatever it is, the important thing is that it generates a flow, a feel, that spills over into the rest of the community.
There are the mainstays, like Craig’s Cornerstone, with its fashion-based collective of retailers; the Red Brick Cafe, with its rotating deli menu and third-wave coffee; Aria Restaurant in the centrally located Days Inn Vermilion, with Korean flavours and spices to warm you to the core; and then newer upstarts, like Copper Cork, Burnt Rock and Sweets and Treats Night Owl, a new candy store with a vintage flair, all opened within the last two years. So it’s no wonder other communities are seeking to uncover the secret sauce.
For visitors, though, the why isn’t as important as the what: a chill college town scene on the prairies with natural beauty and recreational opportunities on its doorstep, that has yet to be discovered by the masses.
For skiers particularly, the Vermilion ski trails, with the old CN train station-converted clubhouse and the Beckie Scott family legacy, are an essential part of the province’s Nordic pilgrimage. (The growing list of Nordic ski destinations in Alberta’s north, including Bonnyville and Lac La Biche, help complete the route.)
The ripple effect is apparent as Zorn and McAuley depart Sweets and Treats Night Owl with a post-ski treat, all laughs and smiles. Skiing can keep you young while connecting you to tradition and community, and that is flow itself.